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Questionnaire Assistance Centers (qacs)

Questionnaire Assistance Centers (QACs) will be established in public places to help people complete a census form. They are intended to be a key part of the Bureauís plans to improve response in hard-to-enumerate (HTE) areas, and particularly to help people with limited English proficiency. QACs are also set up to assist people without access to telephones or who may have low literacy skills, and are an important part of counting traditionally undercounted populations.46 Publicly accessible locations such as community centers, social services offices and large apartment buildings are among the kinds of sites that will serve as QACs.

Staffing: The 1995 Census Test and the 1998 Dress Rehearsal found that to ensure adequate access to a QAC, paid Bureau staff will be critical.47 During the dress rehearsal, the Bureau had varying success with volunteers staffing the assistance centers. For example, at a public library in South Carolina, "the volunteer stopped coming [after two days] when the volunteer realized that no one was coming in for help."48 In Menominee, volunteers staffed all three QACs. One volunteer stopped staffing the site after it was apparent people were not requesting assistance. The other two volunteers (interviewed by the OIG) valued the role QACs could play to improve responses to the census.49 Sacramento had paid staff on-site at QACs.50

For 2000, 15,000 paid temporary (3-week) employees will staff the QACs to supplement the volunteers running the QACs. According to the Bureau, 15,000 staff members would be sufficient to staff one QAC in approximately 25 percent of all neighborhoods during the mailout / mailback phase.51

Site Selection: During the dress rehearsals, there were varying levels of success for each location. Some of the problems with site selection can be attributed to the lack of clear and consistent instructions for determining locations for QACs. For example, in Columbia, SC, two partnership specialists were responsible for identifying QAC locations, recruiting, and training volunteers to staff the centers.52

In Sacramento, because there was "little guidance from the Bureau or local partners, Sacramentoís [city] managers selected sites themselves."53 For Census 2000, the Bureau states that Regional Census Offices will seek advice from local partners and will use the "hard-to-count" index as determined by the Planning Database 54 to select sites.55 This process is critically important to the success of QACs.

The Bureau is currently developing criteria and procedures for determining the placement of QACs. The Board urges the Bureau to finalize QAC site selection procedures as soon as possible, so staff at the local and regional level can begin reviewing possible QAC sites in consultation with local partners.

The Board believes QACs can serve a valuable function, if they are placed in useful areas and publicized. The Board recommends the Bureau focus efforts on working closely with local partners, and using the Planning Database to identify areas where QACs can best reach traditionally undercounted populations. Follow-through with local partners should be a priority.

The Bureau plans for QACs to be accessible beyond "traditional work hours." QACs will be open during morning hours to reach seniors and homemakers, all day Saturday and Sunday and after work hours to reach hard-to-enumerate populations.56

Publicity: There were varying levels of QAC utilization at the three dress rehearsal sites and QACs were not widely publicized. In its analysis of QACs, the OIG found that local organizations felt "an individual seeking in-person assistance would have difficulty determining where the centers were located."57 The Board recommends that promotion be improved for QACs in 2000, including advertising locations and hours of operation. Although there were differences in site selection and staffing during the dress rehearsal, the Board agrees that the level of activity will increase with better publicity of QACs, an improved site selection process and paid staff.

In Sacramento, there was little differentiation between Be Counted sites and QACs.58 Be Counted sites are designated high-traffic areas which the Bureau will stock with Be Counted forms, but which will not be staffed. The Board recommends that the difference between QACs and Be Counted sites be clarified for 2000 among decennial Bureau personnel and the public. This explanation should be incorporated into the training process.

Telephone Questionnaire Assistance Program: The OIG reports that Telephone Questionnaire Assistance (TQA) centers will more effectively and efficiently assist respondents with filling out their forms than Questionnaire Assistance Centers.  

The Board supports the Bureauís decision to implement both the Questionnaire Assistance Center (QAC) and the Telephone Questionnaire Assistance (TQA) programs. We believe QACs will be a critical component in providing assistance to Limited English Proficient populations and others that will be hard to enumerate. The QACs are one of the mechanisms for distributing Language Assistance Guides to help respondents fill out their forms. Also, the QACs will be important for some members of populations that were undercounted in 1990 who may not have telephones in their homes and would therefore have difficulty accessing Telephone Questionnaire Assistance.

Presidential Membersí Position: Several of the challenges with the QACs during the dress rehearsal are attributed to the fact that they were volunteer-run. The regional partnership coordinator for South Carolina recommended that the Bureau hire paid staff to assist volunteers in operating the QACs.

For 2000, 15,000 paid temporary workers will staff the QACs for three weeks to supplement the work of the volunteers. QACs will be open from March 8, 2000 through April 27, 2000.59 Acting Inspector General Johnnie Frazier stated, "I think the Census Bureau is reacting by making sure that they use paid people now as opposed to volunteers. They will be able to control that a lot better."60

Congressional Membersí Position: The Congressional Members are reluctant to ascribe the ineffectiveness of QAC sites in the dress rehearsal to failure on the part of local partners. Rather, the mistakes made in choosing QAC locations are consistent with the Bureauís insufficient coordination and follow-through with local partners during the dress rehearsals.

According to firsthand testimony from local partners in the South Carolina dress rehearsal site, community groups were extremely frustrated by the Bureauís reluctance to accept recommendations from local partners. Complete Count Committee member Anita Floyd testified, "We started to feel a little bit like all of our work was just kind of a side show, because the stuff that we were feeding to the census people, there was no follow-through."61

Similar concerns with Bureau follow-up were reported by the OIG, which noted that the regional partnership coordinator "recognized that locations contacted in the fall of 1998 should have been contacted again before the start of the Be Counted campaign [in April 1998] to ensure their commitment.62

Furthermore, the examples of volunteers leaving inactive QACs are more reflections on inefficient site selection and inadequate promotion, rather than reflections on staffing. It is not unreasonable for an alert volunteer to leave a QAC after two or three days of inactivity.

The Congressional Members of the Board believe that the Bureau can reduce difficulties and increase the effectiveness of QACs by employing the Planning Database and working closely with local partners to pre-identify QAC locations that will best serve traditionally undercounted communities.